What is your aim working as a detective? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.
June 19, 2006 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Wittgenstein, in a letter to Norman Malcolm, wrote: "...A couple of years ago I read with great pleasure a detective story called Rendezvous With Fear by a man Norbert Davis. I enjoyed it so much that I gave it not only to Smythies but also to Moore to read and both shared my high opinion of it. For, though, as you know, I’ve read hundreds of stories that amused me and that I liked reading, I think I’ve only read two perhaps that I’d call good stuff, and Davis’s is one of them... It may sound crazy, but when I recently re-read the story I liked it again so much that I thought I’d really like to write to the author and thank him. If this is nuts don’t be surprised, for so am I..."
Though it is discussed by both Ray Monk, in his biography of Wittgenstein, and Edmonds and Eidenow, in their popular book about Wittgenstein's philosophical clash with Popper (and an aging Russell), it is always interesting to read about this strange man's love of detective fiction. Though I don't necessarily agree with the linked author's conclusions, it makes for a good read.
posted by voltairemodern (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions, but the essay was a nice read. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2006


No hits for Rendezvous with Fear by Norbert Davis at abebooks.com. Nuts.
posted by Hogshead at 12:42 PM on June 19, 2006


I've long half-joked that my epistemological outlook is as much rooted in Dasheill Hammett as it is in WV Quine.

Nice little paper, thanks. It feels like a well written undergrad paper. It's odd, however, that he felt the need to substitute 'detective' with 'philosopher' to make his point. It felt somewhat presumptive. I also wonder why he substituted 'reconstruct' for 'describe' in the passage quoted from 106. I would have advised the writer to leave the Witt. quotes in their original and allow the reader to draw the connections. Good paper, though.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:47 PM on June 19, 2006


No hits for Rendezvous with Fear by Norbert Davis at abebooks.com.

Acc. to the article, it was also known as "The Mouse in the Mountain," which is available in several places.
posted by carter at 12:57 PM on June 19, 2006


Again, it's not difficult to see why. Some of what Popper believed - that we can never know if we have arrived at the truth, that there are no facts without theories, that science is not the accumulation of irrefutable truths but a ceaseless cycle of problems, inadequate solutions and new problems - is available these days in more glamorous form from postmodernists.

Popper is easy to understand. No one has the foogiest clue what postmodernists are on about.
posted by Paris Hilton at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Popper is easy to understand. No one has the foogiest clue what postmodernists are on about.

Popper's ideas move toward pragmatism, the post-modernists' move toward tenure.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:44 PM on June 19, 2006


Popper's ideas move toward pragmatism, the post-modernists' move toward tenure.

*zing*

I found most of the reviews of Wittgenstein's Poker less than satisfactory in terms of their attribution of various philosophical positions to Witt. and Popper. For example, the quote you siezed on, Paris, describes a philosophical stance I thought was far too generous to attribute to Popper. At least the part about science being a "ceaseless" cycle, without progress in the common sense of the word, is Kuhnian; and Popper was a far more embittered enemy of Kuhn, here, than he ever was of Wittgenstein. In the end, I decided to use this review for the post only because I couldn't find a better one.
posted by voltairemodern at 2:31 PM on June 19, 2006


Wittgenstein also loved westerns -- the movies, that is. Crazy cat. My first philosophy tutor at university was a Wittgenstein scholar and he always got a kick out of telling us that one.
posted by macdara at 2:44 PM on June 19, 2006


Neat.

If language is a game (late Wittgenstein), then (well-written) detective novels are the ultimate uses of language, games about games so to speak.

As much as I like noir fiction and film, it's really a different can of worms than the novel of detection as performed by Dupin and his great imitator Sherlock Holmes.
posted by bardic at 3:05 PM on June 19, 2006


(Derail: Stalin loved westerns as well. He used to force his cabal to say up till dawn getting drunk and watching them with him. There's something about them, along with detective novels, that are really pure and satisfying in terms of genre. That's my pet theory at least.)
posted by bardic at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2006


There's something about them, along with detective novels, that are really pure and satisfying in terms of genre. And keep in mind that about half the movies coming out of Hollywood were Westerns in those days. They were the most popular single genre, so anyone with the slightest interest in American films would have been exposed to them on a massive scale.
posted by QuietDesperation at 3:50 PM on June 19, 2006


Back in the 80's, Nature published a letter from the son of Sir Lawrence Bragg (Nobelist, X-ray diffraction), claiming he'd known Wittgenstein well when he (Bragg) was young and asserting that Wittgenstein was schizophrenic, rather flagrantly as I recall, and adducing, among other interesting things, that Wittgenstein ate great quantities of rye bread and insisted on its sufficiency to sustain life.

I found this reassuring, because the more I'd read W. the less I'd felt I understood him, and it seemed to explain the sense I get from the Tractatus of a shipwrecked man clinging desperately to a flotsam of logic, as well as the local cogency and global incoherence of Philosophical Investigations.
posted by jamjam at 4:58 PM on June 19, 2006


W. was also a prolific masturbator. And along with Socrates, a decorated war hero.
posted by bardic at 5:42 PM on June 19, 2006


W. was also a prolific masturbator.

Who among us is not?
posted by me & my monkey at 5:54 PM on June 19, 2006


W. was also a prolific masturbator.

Interesting. Googled the topic, no luck. Could you poiint me to a link on the subject?

I knew a yogi in South India who adored the novels of Louie L'Amour. Always thought that was hilarious.

The late pop artist Tom Wesselman, had a secret passion for Country and Western music. He hired a team of music producers and musicians who would come to his studio on the Bowery in NYC secretly to set Tom's songs to music, record them and send them out to Nashville companies. He never understood why his tunes about yearning love among the skyscrapers didn't succeed.

You guys probably already know this but Hitler and Wittgenstein went to the same school and it was supposed/thoerized that Hitler's hatred of Jews was in part his envy of Wtt's being a brainiac.

Wittgenstein and Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz, and were simultaneously at the school for one year. While Hitler was just six days older than Wittgenstein, they were two grades apart at the Realschule — Hitler was repeating a year and Wittgenstein had been advanced a year. Cornish's thesis is not only that Hitler did know the young Wittgenstein, but that he hated Wittgenstein, and that Wittgenstein was specifically the "one Jewish boy" from his school days referred to in the section of Mein Kampf where Hitler traces out the origins of his anti-Semitism. He argues from this that Hitler's anti-Semitism involved a projection of the young Wittgenstein's traits onto the whole Jewish people.
posted by nickyskye at 6:58 PM on June 19, 2006


Can't find any links to the masturbation anecdote, but a friend told me that he has a lot to say about the subject in some of his unpublished journals (I'm a fan, btw, not just trying to slag the guy).
posted by bardic at 7:12 PM on June 19, 2006


bardic, didn't think you were trying to slag the guy. Witt was an interesting character. I don't think he could relate to human beings all that well and being a "prolific masturbator" would fit into that.

I've speculated about his psychology. He was obsessively perfectionistic in building his dream house, which was too inhumanly clinical an environment for his immediate family.

Derail: As a Buddhist I've been interested in reading Witt's work and comparing it with the Abidharma, the book of Buddhist logic, such as Witt's "4.0311 One name stands for one thing, another for another thing, and they are combined with one another. In this way the whole group--like a tableau vivant--presents a state of affairs." from his Tractatus could be compared with the Buddhist definition of a human being: the Five Skandhas and a name.

It's intriguing to know Witt found 'regular' pleasures - and relief - in something.
posted by nickyskye at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2006


Thanks for this post; it's made me want to read Wittgenstein.

I recently read a collection of Hammett's short stories, having read previously only The Maltese Fountain, and was very impressed — and I've been an admirer of Chandler's for a long time. Even though Chandler is fairly well regarded these days, and even though Hammett was a favorite of the literati even during his lifetime, I think this sort of work remains under-regarded. There's something to be said for fiction devoid of redemption or salvation, which isn't afraid to portray life in all its shittiness, fucked-up, empty, and futile, a sucker's bet to the end.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:46 PM on June 19, 2006


Err, Falcon. No idea where that came from.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:03 PM on June 19, 2006


German director Wim Wenders is also a huge fan of Hammett and Westerns. hmmm....
posted by shoepal at 11:31 PM on June 19, 2006


I wish someone could link to one of these specific pulp detective stories like the ones Ray Monk mentions.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:40 PM on June 20, 2006


A profile of Norbert Davis

Thrilling Detective's "Best Anthologies of Reprints" -- Maybe your library has a copy of one.

RARA-AVIS Informal Reading List

Vinitage Library has three novels by Davis

If you want to know more about the pulp authors you will find ThePulp.Net is a great starting point.

stickycarpet: email me which one of the types or authors Monk mentioned and I might be able to find you something. It's too bad Conde Nast got blackmask.com taken down or I could point you to a few dozen right away.
posted by ?! at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2006


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